Friday, 15 August 2014

A mixed bag: retail and reflection, plus a small finish.

Can't quite believe it is two weeks since we returned from holiday.  It's that strange period when you almost feel you haven't been away but you have only just finished doing the post-holiday washing and ironing (yes, I do still use my iron for more than just patchwork blocks!).

I think it is partly that I have had a really busy fortnight with family stuff (daughter's wisdom teeth out, younger son's work experience and exam results, mum-in-law's hospital appointment - you know the kind of thing) PLUS a fair amount of quilty stuff, the highlight of which was a visit to Festival of Quilts at NEC, Birmingham (UK) a week ago yesterday.  I had such a great time and was so tired after all the stimulating shopping and viewing of quilts and chatting quilts with my lovely friends, Sylvia and Susie.  It was like a whole year of quilt related activity packed into one day!

I only saw a smallish selection of the quilts on show, but I saw some amazing pieces of work. Unfortunately, although I remembered a camera this time, I was too mean to buy a programme and I don't know the names of the makers, so I'm not sure about the ethics of showing you photos without being able to give a credit. Sorry, I just hope some of you also managed to get there, or will have had a chance to visit a show near you this summer: it is so exciting to see other people's work and to be inspired to go further and do better with one's own efforts.  Plus, let's be honest, the shopping opportunities are great!

On that note I can show you some of what I bought, and I hope that will spur me on to make quilts with the fabrics before another year has passed and the next FOQ rolls around.

First pic is my absolute favourite at the moment: I must have subconsciously been thinking about the colours because, having picked out the bundles of FQs (Secret Garden by Nel Whatmore for Free Spirit) I also bought Fair Trade fabric and Aurifil threads which exactly co-ordinate!  I am a real impulse shopper at a show because it is all a bit mad, there is so much to see that is new and that I may never see again, so I tend to just react and buy what I like, then think about how I will use it later.  So it's great when the fabrics do all work can see in my stash the times when it didn't work out quite so well!

Some of the leftover plains may end up mingling with these fabrics from Creative Quilting, and the aqua threads look like they'll find some use with this selection too.

Apologies for this next photo which I forgot to rotate - some of the same colours cropping up again... plus some really strong brights to shake it all up a bit.  They make my mouth water and I'm sure I'll find a use for them too.

And a slightly cooler gathering, from a variety of places, just because they were lovely.

Having just had my first blogging anniversary, I want to thank everyone who has dropped by, and especially those of you who have been kind enough to leave a comment.  I have really enjoyed the process and the nudge it gives one to follow through and finish off.  I have been reflecting recently about how I have sewn all my life, but through my teens and twenties I used to feel that I was strange to enjoy sewing as no-one else I knew sewed.

In my thirties with babies I had two friends with a sewing/knitting background/interest and I discovered patchwork later that decade through classes at my LQS.  I still felt a bit of a misfit though as there wasn't really anyone of my age at the classes in those days.  In my forties I was fortunate to work at my LQS and subsequently teach there, and I found such friendship among my colleagues who were all equally fabric obsessed.  I learned so much from them, both technically and in the way they chose and used fabric in their own projects, as well as from helping customers choose.

It is such a bond, finding others who care about the same things as you, and I love meeting up with them to really talk about quilting, in a way that you can't with people who don't do it themselves, no matter how politely interested they may be.  I had a lovely day on Tuesday with Mary, a friend I used to work with but don't now see as often as I'd like, because of distance and other commitments.  She introduced me to Pinterest which I have just started playing with, and it is like being at a never-ending quilt show - there are so many really talented makers out there and it is wonderful to be able to see and share in all the great work which previously would perhaps have had an airing at an annual show and then be seen no more except by the recipient of the quilt.

Now in my fifties, I am a late adopter of the technology, but I love all the opportunities there are out there on the web for us to shop, learn and share ideas.  I no longer feel that I am the only one with a rather odd interest - I know there are many thousands of us addicted to making things with fabric!

Enough reflecting, my finish this week is a table runner made from the leftover blocks and bits from a small quilt I must have made ten years ago when stitch and flip corners and bonus triangles were first becoming popular techniques.

The little blocks finish at 2 3/8" square, sashing 1 3/8", and the runner measures 9 1/2" x 24" because that's the most I could get out of what I had left.    

It is so satisfying to use up what's left, and the very small number of strips remaining have gone in the scrap bag.

In case you are interested, here's a picture of the original quilt which measures 45" square.

The sawtooth border is made from the bonus triangles which measure 5/8" finished.

They are not perfect so don't look too closely (I didn't trim them down after stitching!!!) but they do what all pieced borders do, in my opinion, and that is add interest to the quilt for only a bit of extra effort.

I like the fact that they belong in the quilt, having been made as part of the main process; and the shapes are the same (ie HST's) but the scale is different.

So how about looking through your UFO's and leftovers and seeing what you can do with them this week? Unlock your creativity and make something from 'nothing' before rewarding yourself by cutting into new fabric and starting a new project!  I will be.

I am linking this week to Finish it Up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts, whose fabric choices always inspire me.

PS Picked these sloes on a walk with my dog earlier today; beautiful blue-ish bloom on the dark purple skins.  Sloe gin for Christmas!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Honeycomb Ice Cream

OK, as promised, and before summer is over, here is the recipe for Honeycomb Ice Cream.  Actually the name is a little misleading as it doesn't taste of honey, but more like frozen crème caramel - I think the 'honeycomb' probably refers to the aerated nature of the Crunchie/cinder toffee chunks in the mix.

A word before the pictures start about the ingredients: as I said before, this is the easiest ice cream in the world as there is no churning required, either by hand or machine.  The ice cream is very smooth with no jagged ice crystals because the sugar content of the mixture is high and this prevents sharp ice crystals forming. However, I am conscious that some of the ingredients may not be readily available in all parts of the world. I know that in France they do not seem to have what we in England know as double cream.  Not sure what you have in USA or Australia but it says on the carton that double cream is 48% fat if that helps you to identify the equivalent product.

I guess you probably have sweetened condensed milk as it is made by Nestlé, and golden syrup (do you call it treacle? though our treacle is black), but I am not sure about bicarbonate of soda which is a raising agent and used to aerate the caramel to make the honeycomb/cinder toffee chunks.

If you cannot get bicarb (or do not want to make the honeycomb yourself) then you may be able to buy the sweet (candy) known as Crunchie here in England (which is a chocolate-covered cinder toffee bar) and crush that.

But it is great fun to make the caramel and see it froth up - my kids used to love to watch - so why not have a go?  Just be aware that the caramel gets very hot, much hotter than boiling water, and don't let any little ones get a burn from the hot sugar.

You will need:
600 ml or 1 pint of double cream
Tin of condensed milk (weight 397g which is about 14 oz)
5 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Measure the sugar and syrup into a small pan and heat on the stove.  DO NOT at any point be tempted to stir the mixture as it will prevent the caramel from forming correctly.

You can swirl the pan to mix the sugar and syrup as they melt.  You need the pan to be hot enough to form the caramel without it being so hot that the mixture catches and burns before the sugar has melted.

Cook the caramel until it is a good dark brown; I would say about the colour of cold tea but we all take our tea differently nowadays!  The darker the caramel the more bitter the taste (which is good, the bitterness sets off the richness and sweetness of the cream) but you don't want the sugar actually to burn.

If it doesn't work to your liking first time don't despair - the ingredients used so far aren't expensive and you can have another go.  Just put the pan to soak in cold water and start again.

While the caramel is cooking you shouldn't really take your eyes off it but you may just have a moment to grab a board and put a sheet of baking parchment (silicone paper?) on it; something non-stick anyway - NOT greaseproof  paper - as you need to be able to peel off the honeycomb/cinder toffee when it is set.

Now for the fun part:  make sure you have everything you need to hand as you will have to act quickly.  You need to have ready: one level teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda, a metal spoon, a knife and spatula to scrape the spoon and pan.

Tip the bicarb into the caramel (off the heat) and stir like mad with the metal spoon.  You will find that the caramel immediately froths up and expands.

As soon as all the bicarb is mixed in, tip the aerated mixture on to the baking parchment and scrape out the pan.  You will find that the mixture starts to set almost immediately so it is important not to delay in scraping it all out.

It doesn't look terribly appetising at this stage but it will taste fantastic; just leave it for half and hour or so to cool and set completely.

Put the pan to soak in cold water immediately and it will be no trouble to clean.  (If you delay don't worry, you will just have to soak it for longer before washing up.)

When the cinder toffee is cold, peel it off the baking parchment and set it upside down back on the parchment (it just makes it easier to break up this way).

Using the end of a rolling pin or something similar, gently break up the honeycomb/cinder toffee into smallish pieces: you don't want a fine powder but a variety of sized pieces works well.

I've done an extra-large picture so you can see the aerated, honeycomb structure of the pieces.

Into a large bowl now put the double cream and beat with an electric whisk until the cream just starts to hold its shape - you do not want it to be at all stiff however.
Next,  fold in the condensed milk.

Finally, fold in the honeycomb pieces and tip the whole lot into a plastic freezer box with a lid.

Once the lid is on, put the ice cream into the freezer for several hours, preferably overnight.

It will keep for a few weeks but over time the caramel may start to break down - it will still taste delicious but in my experience will become less crunchy the longer you keep it.

As with most things it tastes best if fairly freshly made, and it is divine with fresh berries or (my absolute favourite for impressing guests) fresh peaches poached in Marsala wine.

I hope you will be tempted to have a go at making this ice cream - do let me know how you get on.  It has been fun writing this food recipe as a tutorial, instead of a quilt recipe, but I plan to get back to focusing on quilts in the future.

In writing this recipe for an audience which may be in any part of the world, I have also been really conscious of how different places, even English-speaking places, have different words for ingredients and measurements, so I hope this makes sense to you wherever you are!

Friday, 1 August 2014

Holiday finishes

We are just back from a lovely family holiday in sunny South Cornwall.  We stayed in a beautiful flat/apartment which was the upper floor of an old stable building on an estate now owned 'for ever, for everyone' by the National Trust.

We enjoyed amazing walks through the parkland of the estate and along the South West Coast Path on the Lizard peninsula - the weather was so good that we felt we were in an advert for the English Tourist Board. The weather is not usually so good for our summer holiday, I can assure you, but when the sun shines you can't beat the UK for gorgeous scenery, in my biased opinion.

The only sewing I managed was to finish hand stitching the bindings on two quilts I had machine quilted the week before we went away.  So they are finishes this week technically, but I feel a bit of a fraud as it hasn't really been a sewing week.

First finish is Strips that Sizzle (last posted about here).  I think I am most pleased with this finish of all my finishes this month because the blocks were mostly made such a long time ago, and I feel that I rescued them by making them into a finished quilt which can be used and enjoyed.

I am also pleased with my machine quilting, which took quite a long time but which was all achieved with a walking foot and no puckers - phew!

It gives a great finish to the reverse as well, where I used another variegated thread.  I found a plain thread looked too solid and dull for the mainly spotty backing (ex-stash and not quite big enough so I pieced in some extra interest).

Finished at 55" square.

My other finish was also retrieved from the pile of UFO's.  This blog is such a spur to finishing old projects: if you are like me and prefer starting to finishing I can recommend making yourself accountable to a group of virtual or actual quilting friends to increase your productivity.

The quilt top was pieced a couple of years ago from a couple of rolls of ready-cut strips purchased from Kim Porter of Worn and Washed who specialises in tempting bundles of recycled fabrics.  I have made several tops from such bundles in the past and have always been very pleased with the results: Kim has a great eye for colour and it is such an easy way to make a vintage looking quilt in a really short time.

The only reason this top has sat in the cupboard so long is that I thought I wanted to quilt it with big stitches and thick thread.  I started but wasn't happy, and so the project was abandoned.  I later tried quilting with ordinary quilting thread in a different design but didn't like that either.  Finally this month I decided it must be tackled: I ripped out all previous efforts  and machine quilted parallel lines with a soft yellow thread on top and a variegated orange thread on the bottom to blend with the zany plaid.

The wadding is polyester which I wouldn't normally machine quilt through, but remember I had layered it up for hand quilting and I really didn't want to start all over again.  I therefore was worried that I would get a lot of drag from using the walking foot, but I adjusted the pressure of the foot on my Juki and it coped fine.

My other recommendation, should you find yourself in a similar situation, is always to quilt in the same direction; so rather than turning the quilt when I had worked from the centre to the right hand edge, I scrunched it all up under the arm and kept going from the centre to the left hand edge, still working from top to bottom. Fortunately it is not a terribly big quilt (47"x 56") and the polyester scrunched up easily.

Polyester makes it a very lightweight quilt and, as the wadding will dry quickly, maybe it will be a good choice for a picnic blanket or for a youngster to drag about. The quilt drapes beautifully as the fabrics themselves, having been worn and washed many times, no doubt, have none of the stiffness of new-bought fabric. 

Binding:  backing plaid cut on the bias, of course.

Since we are looking at a pink/yellow/orange quilt, this might be a good place for these photos of pink/yellow/orange flowers from our holiday.  As I took the pics early in the morning of the day we left, the Californian poppies in the first photo are not fully open so their sublime orangey-ness is not so apparent, but I hope the picture conveys some of the zing and excitement of the combination.  The everlasting flowers in the second photo are more restrained but still a delicious mix.  And the different greens are refreshing as a background - so many colour lessons in nature.

I managed to visit the wonderful Cowslip Workshops on the way home - we were passing within a couple of miles so it would have been rude not to stop and buy something, surely?  I restricted myself to backings for tops already pieced, which showed great restraint as I would have loved at least a fat quarter of everything in the shop...

I also have another treat coming up later this week: on Thursday I am spending the day at the Festival of Quilts at the NEC in Birmingham, the UK's biggest and best quilt show with lots of lovely traders including some from Europe.  So I am feeling very spoilt to have so much to look back on and forward to, that I am racing around madly doing the post-holiday laundry and associated tidying-up before I start any sewing this weekend....

And I haven't forgotten my promise of the Honeycomb Ice Cream recipe made in my last post: my daughter and I will be making some specially tomorrow so we can photograph the stages, so be patient a little longer and check back soon.  Till then, enjoy these huge hydrangeas, almost emblematic of the West Country.

I am linking today to Crazy Mom Quilts and Lily's Quilts.